Known online as The Sentimental Bloke, photographer Peter MacDonald has a poetic ability to depict the South Australian landscape.

Story By Therese Hall

Peter MacDonald walks along the ridges of sandhills on the edge of Nilpena Station, in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. With no vegetation to hold the earth still, the sandhills are flyaway, changing their shape from day to day. It makes walking hard going, with the ground constantly falling away under Peter’s feet.
Despite the wind and roasting temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius, Peter walked for hours across these dunes every afternoon for three weeks until he found the picture that he had already conjured in his imagination. In this mental picture, the dunes and the mountains line up to tell a story about a special place where the desert and the mountains meet.
That’s how it is for Peter MacDonald. He waits until the picture he has imagined comes into the viewfinder. “I was looking for a good sunset behind me but I needed it filtering through the cloud to get the intensity of red. And it had to be mid-summer because that’s when the light is best,” he says. “The windy conditions meant that the sand was moving quite a lot. Then at sunset it would go calm and I could get that nice clean cut over the dunes. When the two dunes lined up with the mountains I knew I’d got my shot. It only happened once.”
The image that he captured is a work called Nilpena Dunes, and a large limited-edition print hangs in the bar of the Prairie Hotel, about 30 kilometres from the sandhills. It’s just across the road from Peter’s cottage in the sleepy rail-side hamlet of Parachilna, 470km north of Adelaide. While the pub is a quirky stopover for travellers exploring the Flinders Ranges, Parachilna is home to only two permanent residents, and Peter is one of them. It puts him in the centre of the Flinders Ranges, where he finds inspiration in the contours of the landscape, the light and the colours. “It’s the best spot for me,” he says. “I can get up early and find those special places; there’ll always be something for me here.”

This Story is from Issue #87

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2013